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July 15, 2010


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Not that I like the monkey movies as works of cinema, but they've always struck me as the only Hollywood movies I know that present blue collar lives without a hint of pity-the-poor-folks condescension (NORMA RAE, for instance) or smug, I'm-better-than-this irony (like Burt Reynolds' redneck pictures of the same era). Yes, the characters are silly or outrageous, but they're never mocked for who they are. That generosity of spirit is one of the things I like best about Eastwood's films. (Most of them, anyway. I tried thinking of a defense for THE EIGER SANCTION, but, um, it ain't easy.)


Every Which Way But Loose was my first Eastwood movie, and however corny it looks to me now it was a gateway drug. It introduced me not only to Clint but to Ruth Gordon; and would eventually take me to Don Siegel. A year later I was begging my folks to see Siegel's Escape from Alcatraz—still an excellent film—and scanning TV Guide for late night airings of Play Misty for Me and The Gauntlet and The Outlaw Josey Wales. I have never liked the treacle that creeps into even his best work, Pinback, and but while I don't like his treatment of blue collar life in, say, Million Dollar Baby, I think you're right that Eastwood is capable of treating working class people without condescension, as he did in Gran Torino. (I know, I know, flame on.) And I suspect you're right, Glenn, that the orangutan movies were a warm up for Bronco Billy.

Hell, I just caught Two Mules for Sister Sara over the weekend with the Mrs. and we enjoyed it thoroughly. I'll take second rate Eastwood pictures (those he directed and/or those in which he stars) over the first rate work of many more celebrated filmmakers any day.

Tom Russell

The one thing I remember[*] the most vividly about the Which Way movies is the trailer for the first, in which an off-screen couple wonder what movie they're going to see, and the guy's like, "How about a Clint Eastwood movie?"/"Oh, I like him", and then he proceeds to describe the film and she reacts like, "What? I've never seen Clint Eastwood do anything like that!" or some such. A clever trailer, I thought.

[*-- Of course, since the movie predated me by some years, my "remembrance" is from seeing both the film and its trailer on DVD.]

Dan Coyle

Well, at least no one's trying to defend Pink Cadillac or Blood Work.


Michael Adams

When people talk about Eastwood or Siegel or even Shirley, they rarely mention Two Mules, but as bstrong sez, it's thoroughly entertaining. Outstanding Morricone score, too.

Evelyn Roak

Tom, in a similar vein I recommend giving a listen to this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EAbkPHoONc) radio ad for The Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" "It IS The Byrds. They're doing Dylan!" "It can't be!"

I will go to bat for the Burt Reynolds/Hal Needham films, HOOPER being the brightest shining gem of the bunch. True, Terry Bradshaw was always depicted as the aww-shucks fool but damn if he didn't play that aspect up in his own media appearances(and continues to through this very day ((though I do remember seeing a RealSports piece on his struggles with depression that was interesting))), but I don't feel the movies on a whole travel in outright smugness. HOOPER is a pretty loving tribute to stuntmen. Needham got his start, and had a lengthy career as a stuntman and Robert Klein's director is openly mocked in contrast to the stuntmen in the film.

Damn if Burt Reynolds wasn't a charming and often hilarious comic actor, and a wonderful partner with Dom DeLuise (I remember liking THE END, one of his few directorial attempts but need to see it again---a look at IMDB shows he did direct 35 episodes of EVENING SHADE. Interesting).

THE CANNONBALL RUN DVD also has one of the finest commentary tracks, with Hal Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy, ever commited to spinning circular disc.

Sorry, that is a lot of rambling Reynolds discussion in an Eastwood post.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

I could have sworn Glen Campbell sings the title track to "Any Which Way You Can". Ray and Clint duet on "Beers to You", but I wouldn't consider that the theme song of the picture.

 don r. lewis

I saw "Every Which Way But Lose" 38 times one summer on Showtime at my Grandparents house. I was obsessed with it and also remember forcing my stoner aunt and uncle to take me to see "Any Which Way You Can" in theaters when it came out. Ah, youth...and hot boxed cars with youth in them...


I'll try to rise to Dan Coyle's challenge.

If you're an Eastwood fan, PINK CADILLAC really is a lot of fun, if only for his over-the-top comic performance, a rare successful example of Eastwood stepping outside his comfort level as an actor. As for the movie that surrounds him, with a better director (possibly significantly, this was the last Malpaso production signed by anyone other than Eastwood) and a tighter pace, it might even qualify as good.

As for BLOOD WORK...well, it's competently made, at least.


For whatever reason, I don't have anything to add at the moment, but I would like to say to Pinback: I like your name.


Dan: I liked BLOOD WORK, but I have no critical bona fides, so I'll direct you to Chris Fujiwara: http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/movies/reviews/documents/02396036.htm

Fuzzy Bastard

This anecdote mostly further convinces me that critics praising Eastwood's direction as "restrained" or "laconic" are simply confusing his film persona with his actual directing. It's always been odd to me that some insist that a director who pours on the heavy-handed music, single-minded color schemes, and narrative contrivances that Dickens would find implausible, should then be praised for his tasteful lack of melodrama, but if people actually believe that Clint Eastwood is the outlaw Joey Wales, that explains everything.

Chris O.

I remember being disappointed in BLOOD WORK after looking forward to it for months -- I vaguely recall reading about the deal for him to make BLOOD WORK and MYSTIC RIVER (both screnplays by Brian Hegeland) -- but liking the aging cop aspect of it. Haven't seen it since the theater, though. I'd nearly forgotten Anjelica Huston played his doctor.

Glenn Kenny

I'm very glad that the commenter who calls himself "Fuzzy Bastard" left the above comment, as it pissed me off sufficiently that going through my ab crunch routine this morning felt a lot less like work than it usually does.

I don't suppose it would cut any ice with this individual to point out that the "characters" in the anecdote he cites are each about twenty years old.

How's it feel to be such a thoroughly humorless prig, I wonder? That's a rhetorical question, incidentally; I really think Fuzzy and this blog need to stop seeing each other for a while.

Fuzzy Bastard

Jesus, I was kidding! But glad I helped with the ab routine.

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I mean, I do think there's a tendency to conflate Clint Eastwood the actor (and interview persona) with Clint Eastwood the director, and ascribe virtues to the latter that only the former possesses (and that the latter possesses not at all). And that this story was an amusing demonstration of precisely that confusion, due to its gleeful imagining of tough-guy vengeance doled out to any who don't subscribe to some 20-year-old's taste in movies (it's the cinephile's equivalent of a Rick Barber campaign ad). But no, for heaven's sake, I don't actually think you believe that Clint Eastwood is a high plains drifter, ruthless cop, or trucker with a pet chimp.

Glenn Kenny

Well, if you were kidding, that's another thing, but I honestly didn't see the, um, whaddya call it, textual evidence for that. Maybe me need to read better, or you should telegraph your jokes a little more. Excelsior!...

 don r. lewis

Someone on the IMDB page for "Mystic River" wrote an out-fucking-standing examination of his directorial style on that film and it's dependency on Ford's style. I can't find it over there though :-(

Fuzzy Bastarrd

Actually, the one Eastwood movie that I think does work on its own terms is THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. I'm not being at all sarcastic here---it's really pretty solid.

The big problem with Eastwood has always been the conflict between his directorial tendency to big, sudsy histrionics, and the expectation of manly solemnity imposed by his persona---he's like Pedro Almodovar trapped in the body of Gary Cooper. So taking on a movie where there's no white elephant seriousness in the source material (and he doesn't seem all that impressed by the story himself), he can loosen up and indulge in long, slow pans and big surges of heavy strings, and it's all in good fun.

Dan Coyle

I saw Gran Torino recently (I keep momentarily confusing the title with Sony's videogame car racing epic Gran Turismo) and though I expected to like it, I found myself loving it despite its flaws (the painful Brian Haley character, the bad acting of the kid playing Thao). It helps that I saw a bit of my own grandfather in Eastwood character, or at least the concept of the old guy at the edge of the street who wants to just sit there and drink on the porch all day. There was something really intimate and lived in about the details which really got to me.

Yonette Goad

Anybody who would write that Clint Eastwood is "like Pedro Almodovar trapped in the body of Gary Cooper" would write anything. Why is it that just because it's the Internet, people feel free to say things in a public forum that are just as stupid as things they would say to their friends? Fuzzy Bastar(r)d (his fuzziness even extends to the spelling of his last name), you keep talking about critics who confuse Eastwood's directing style with his acting style, but your only exhibit for this alleged confusion is Glenn's truly amusing anecdote (on which you came down with a heavy-handed diatribe in which I, like Glenn, totally fail to see the humor you say you intended). Engage with what some critical argument that has actually been made, or discuss the films themselves with more insight than you have demonstrated so far, or just cut it out.

Fuzzy Bastard

@ Yonette: If you went to the Mubi page, you'll see precisely that---Glenn praised the restraint of Eastwood's direction in MYSTIC RIVER, I (and Jim Emerson) noted that MYSTIC RIVER piled on heavy music, big crane shots, and shouted dialogue, so praising it for restraint was silly. Is that engagement enough for you?

Kent Jones

FB's line of thinking here is too neat for me, and I don't think the Almodovar/Gary Cooper line makes any sense. On the other hand, I do think that Eastwood has been mischaracterized as a director, too. The big difference is that for FB, this seems to be a qualitative matter, and for me it's not.

The restraint issue seems false to me - there are plenty of soaring musical refrains, majestic crane shots and lots of shouted dialogue in certain Visconti and Coppola films, alongside an equal amount of restraint. But Eastwood's films have always seemed different. It often feels like he settles into a rhythm that could be characterized as musical, and lets it carry the movie; but I also find that his films vary wildly in tone, and that certain scenes obviously interest him more than others. Take MYSTIC RIVER. The soaring musical theme and operatic passages aside, the things I liked and remember best are the quiet moments - Kevin Bacon's scenes, for instance. Eastwood has en extremely light touch with Bacon and the way his character registers, and a not-so-light touch with Larry Fishburne and Tim Robbins (meanwhile, Sean Penn seems isolated in his own movie). In A PERFECT WORLD, which is one of my favorites, he does things with that boy and with Kevin Costner that still amaze me - the tone is calm, pastoral, even lyrical but uneasy, and the menacing moments arrive unexpectedly and, for me at least, cut very deep; whereas the scenes with Eastwood himself, Laura Dern and the FBI agents are relatively perfunctory. I also love THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, but that's a movie that really IS restrained - the quiet evolution of their relationship, the build-up to the way she touches him for the first time, the ending in the rain, none of it would have been possible without restraint. But again, he finds a rhythm, a cadence, and lets it carry the film experience. In a way, that beautiful little movie he made for the blues series, PIANO BLUES, is emblematic - an extremely simple movie (just Eastwood sitting at the piano with Ray Charles, Mary Lou Williams, etc.) but an extremely elegant one as well.

I think that the mischaracterization is located in the term "classical." I don't think Eastwood is a "classical filmmaker" - not in his syntax and not in his pacing. I find him to be a very musical filmmaker, sometimes a little too self-consciously so (as in GRAN TORINO).

Yonette Goad

Fuzzy Bastard asks "Is that engagement enough"? The only possible answer is "Um, no." Looking at the Mubi page, I find that Glenn in his reflections on Eastwood never used the word "restraint" - the word is all FB's. What Glenn said (about a scene in MYSTIC RIVER) was: "But Eastwood plays the scene absolutely straight, almost to the point of banality, standard camera setups, no slow or stuttered motion, and it's the quiet of it, the eerie matter-of-factness, that makes it so wrenching. One might say that as a director he has very conventional ways of being unconventional. Or you could just say that when it counts the most, Eastwood gives it to you straight." This is much more detailed and to the point than praising him for "restraint." As Kent Jones says in his post, Eastwood is not about being "restrained" vs. "not restrained" (operatic or whatever) and more about working with a certain rhythm or tone that lets the movie be something other than a "classical" genre piece. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is a good example of this, a devious and perfectly controlled film. The fluctuations between the deep and the perfunctory in A PERFECT WORLD, noted by Kent, and the split he cites between the Sean Penn and the Kevin Bacon (et al.) parts of MYSTIC RIVER, are indeed typical of a director who is more self-contradictory than he is usually given credit for being.

Kent Jones

I agree, Yonette. I'm curious about your description of Flags of Our Fathers as "devious and controlled," and wonder if you might elaborate. I remember finding the structure of that film a little on the over-determined side, but it didn't seem devious to me.

Actually, I just came from a showing of BIRD, a movie I've always loved. Now, it seems more devastating than ever.


I remember when MILLION DOLLAR BABY (not my favorite Eastwood film, but that's neither here nor there) came out, a lot of critics WERE praising Eastwood for his "no-style" approach to filmmaking. I could see that term being applied to some extent to a film like, say, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, but certainly not to MILLION DOLLAR BABY, or any number of other latter-day Eastwood films, but it does seem to be something of a crutch descriptor in certain quarters. It's alternately used as a pedastal to raise Eastwood up, and a stick to beat him with, and it's false either way.

Yonette Goad

"Devious" was my attempt at shorthand for how Flags of My Fathers, from a seemingly simple set-up (the Americans take Iwo Jima, as remembered decades later by a survivor), splits up into separate paths, narratives and situations mirroring one another, through which the film deals with a range of themes and conflicts in such a complicated way that it becomes impossible to decide "what Eastwood is saying" or "what the film is about." Each road gets stuck in, or trails off into, some incomprehensible chaos (Ira Hayes's fate; the fate of Ignatowski) - memory itself is deliberately rendered as a problematic process, the unstable destiny of events - and it becomes impossible to say either that the film is affirming or denouncing the myth of glorious war, either of which would be simple enough to do. The film is doing so much more.

Tom Russell

I agree that FLAGS does more than affirm or denounce; I think it's a stunning exploration of the process of myth-making, of both the power of a myth/icon/image, and of the human cost of that process-- the two obvious examples being Hayes, and the wrongly-identified soldier in the photograph.

I found to be incredibly moving and layered; I did not have the same reaction to LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, which seemed kind of one-note and by-the-numbers and not nearly as complex. I recall that a number of critics preferred it to FLAGS, which I found kinda baffling. So, since this thread has so far had a tendency to bring out passionate defenders, are there any hardcore LETTERS partisans out there who want to write a few passionate words in its behalf?


You're right, Tom, in that LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is not in the same league as FLAGS, but in fairness, it doesn't try. Watching it, I was reminded of Eastwood's professed admiration for THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, and found LETTERS to be equally simple and on-point, delivering nothing more than a straightforward "war is bad" message.

It is also frankly sentimental, and that is the level where it works. As hokey as some of its tropes were, they battered down my defenses; I found it moving. But if you don't fall for its sentiments, no, I'm not sure it has much to offer. That was my problem with MILLION DOLLAR BABY--I couldn't buy into it emotionally, and that seemed to be the only trick it had to play.

Kent Jones

Thanks for the clarification, Yonette.

I understand what you mean, although I don't really agree. I think his position in the movie relative to each character is extremely clear. I prefer LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA myself - very powerful simplicity. Seeing the two movies back to back is an altogether different experience.

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